Sweets and smiles.
For decades past, the mere mention of the Visayan region’s sleeping giant instantaneously conjures two titles: first—for sweetening the Philippines and parts of the world with its vast sugar lands—as the “Sugarbowl of the Philippines;” and second—for its people’s friendly demeanor—as the “City of Smiles.”
But with 13 cities, 19 municipalities, and 661 barangays spread across 7,926.07 square kilometers of land, Negros Occidental unsurprisingly elicits more words of praise from its visitors.
It is “breathtaking” for mountaineers who have trekked and reached Mount Kanlaon summit—the active volcano that separates Negros Occidental from Negros Oriental—in La Carlota City. It is “lovely” for tourists who have seen the historical The Ruins in Talisay. It is “mouthwatering” for foodphiles who have tasted inasal, napoleones, and piaya, among other delicacies. It is “exciting” for participants of the days-long Masskara and Panaad Festivals in Bacolod City.
While these aforementioned offerings have already put the province in almost every traveler’s radar, Negros Occidental stays true to the connotation of its sock-shaped island.
Fueled by less-traveled destinations, it is still in an active stance to catch up with the high tourism figures of its neighboring provinces.
Today,The Sunday Times Magazine unveils Negros Occidental’s sweeter surprises that lie beyond its much-visited spots.
Hidden beauty, rich biodiversity
Some of Negros Occidental’s unheard beauties include its unspoiled beaches, most especially those lined at the southern tip of the province. True, they pale in comparison when it comes to Boracay’s fine white sand, but a place called Sugar Beach in Sipalay City—with its long stretch of sugary light brown sand, pristine waters and tranquil vibe—could give the famed party island a run for its money.
What await tourists under the waters is even more enticing.
Campomanes Bay—also in Sipalay, a four-hour drive away from Bacolod-Silay International Airport—is a great snorkeling and diving spot for its wide stretch of coral gardens and consequently, various species of marine animals. With its crystal blue waters, one can clearly see the beauty of the underwater world.
Diving resorts and accommodations, mostly owned by Swiss and other European citizens, cater to visiting divers. Two highly recommended ones are Artistic Diving Resort, the very first resort on the stretch of Sipalay; and Easy Diving and Beach Resort, the first 5-star diving resort certified by Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).
Meanwhile, only 30-minutes away from Sipalay City is Cauayan, a first class municipality in Negros Occidental whose rich marine biodiversity has attracted local and international enthusiasts.
When there, a visit to the municipality’s Danjugan Island is a must. The 43-hectare island, surrounded by coral reefs, limestones and mangroves, is home to 572 species of fish, 244 hard coral species, 74 bird species and 10 bat species. The species of birds, including a pair of white-breasted Sea Eagles and the rare Beach Thick-knee, particularly made Danjugan a favorite among bird watchers.
Because of its peaceful environment, this beautiful island—which has a maximum of 48-guest capacity at any given time—is a favorite among campers, yogis and generally those who seek refuge away from the city. Cellular signal is almost none; while solar power is only available to the other half of the island. Accomodations stay true to nature so that visitors will never see an air-conditioning unit, while every person is only allocated a pail of fresh water per day.
Danjugan is no luxury but its natural richness and the effort of the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc.—the non-government organization that manages the island—to maintain the serenity of the island, makes up for it.
If a tourist would rather bask in luxury, however, he or she should book a stay at Punta Bulata Resort and Spa, which is 20 minutes away from Danjugan.
The family owned Punta Bulata Resort and Spa is like a secret garden—no one will ever know its inside beauty until going past its gate. It has 19 rooms, cabanas and casitas that offer a majestic view of the Sulu Sea, and a private stretch of white sand beach that perfectly makes for a secret hideaway.
Negros’ vast biodiversity continues to the northern part of the province. In Sagay City, there is the Suyac Island Mangrove Eco-Park, home to some of the oldest and biggest sonneratia alba mangroves. Have a lunch at the island amid the hundred-year-old mangroves, the oldest of which is 300, and help some 140 families who inhabit the island and with the help and initiative of the local government are now managing and maintaining the site.
A not so hidden fact in the province is the rustic beauty of Silay—commonly referred to as the “Paris of Negros”—where the province’s international airport stands. Today a visit to Negros would not be complete without a walk along the streets of Silay.
Along with Vigan in Ilocos Sur, Taal in Batangas and Pila in Laguna, Silay City is declared as a National Historical Landmark what with about 30 ancestral houses declared by the national historical institute, the most notable of which is Balay Negrense.
The majestic two-storey house was renovated after being abandoned and now houses memorabilia that represent the extravagant lives of hacienderos or sugar landlords, until their downfall in the 1980s.
Some families who own ancestral houses have decided to open them to the public, such as the German Locsin Unson Ancestral House, which is now the first bed and breakfast of its nature in the province.
Recently opened in June, the ancestral house has four spacious bedrooms with a mixture of modern necessity, such as air-conditioning units, and vintage furniture.
With food, nature, history and adventure to satisfy different interests, visitors can look forward indeed to countless surprises from the Negrenses.
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The Sunday Times Magazine would like to thank the Department of Tourism, its Region 6 Office and the Negros Occidental Provincial Tourism Office for facilitating this visit to Negros Occidental.